It takes more than just sharply tailored suits and sherwanis to define Indian menswear today. Ujjawal Dubey’s label Antar-Agni, with its asymmetrical silhouettes, thoughtful layering, and earthy colourways has laid a foundation for a powerful aesthetic. Dubey’s strength lies in balancing tradition with modernity, while at the same time embracing simplicity in a contemporary way. Inspired by the likes of Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto, whose silhouettes blur the line between architecture and fashion, it is in the blend of these two genres that Dubey has found his sweet spot. With his slouchy yet neatly tailored trousers, kurtas which can double as shirts, sherwanis inspired by trans-seasonal lightweight jackets in lycra and cotton, Dubey’s work is meant for an individual who thinks. His interests as a designer extend beyond runways; he likes to understand the technicalities that define a garment.
Born and raised in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, Dubey enrolled in the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Kolkata, as a textile design student in 2006, and it was there that he understood the nuances of design. Upon graduating, he honed his skills at Shantanu & Nikhil, in specific on their sportswear collaboration for Adidas. Wanting to explore fabrics in their natural state, he turned to designing menswear, eventually participating in the 2014 Gen Next programme at Lakmé Fashion Week. For it, inspired by Khaled Hosseini’s ‘The Kite Runner’, he translated the beautiful landscape of Afghanistan into palazzo dhotis, jackets, and draped kurtas crafted from khadi, hand-woven linen, and malkha cotton.
Ten shows later, Dubey has found a certainty in his approach to design. In 2017, he won the prestigious Woolmark Prize, Indian subcontinent and the Middle East regional final, in the menswear category. Once again, with technique as a focal point, Dubey created a collection inspired by the nomadic Indian tribe, the Van Gujjars. The line comprised of layered separates made in silk and merino wool.
For his show at Lakme Fashion Week tomorrow, where Dubey is part of the Sustainable Fashion Day, he is creating a capsule collection where he has worked with craftsmen from the Northeast. We spoke to him about it…
What’s the story you are trying to tell through your collection?
This one is very exciting for us. We have collaborated with Raymond to showcase some beautiful textiles created with a cluster in Assam in association with Reliance IMG and United Nations in India. The plan is to bring forward traditional textiles in a new light.
What sets it apart from your other showcases?
We have worked with traditional fabrics like cotton, eri, mugga, and tussar, and used modern silhouettes for a contemporary look. The collection supports the cause of bringing livelihood and development in the Northeastern states by working with clusters who have handwoven each garment.
Can you shed light on a few pieces?
Antar-Agni has always believed in gender fluidity. We have always given patronage to heritage, and being influenced by history, have created pieces that resonate with various generations. On the other hand, Raymond is one of the most well-known brands for menswear. The amalgamation of our ethos’ created this collection which fits both sectors. Our pieces are versatile – both formal and fun – with shades of grey, neutrals, and a pop of citrine and green.
What was the inspiration?
The fabric. Once I touch and feel the fabric is when the magic starts. It’s almost like the fabric directs and we follow what it says.
Textural interplay and gender fluidity have been your signature – how have you taken it forward this season?
This season is how Antar-Agni defines the new-age Raymond man. Being understated, yet stylish. Creating a balance between formals and fun by adding our signature. The gender-fluid narrative is changing, not just because of designers but also because society has taken on the idea and how! We are becoming more inclusive and accepting.
Who or what is your muse for this latest collection?
The idea is to make everyone feel empowered and confident when they wear our garments.
All images: Courtesy brand